HPC Developments to Watch in 2008

By Michael Feldman

January 4, 2008

Although this may be the year that a supercomputer achieves the one petaflop Linpack performance mark, I mostly see 2008 as a consolidation period for high performance computing. The important technologies that emerged in 2007 — quad-core processors, DDR InfiniBand, coprocessor accelerator technology and a variety of new parallelizing software tools (from Intel, Microsoft, RapidMind, Interactive Supercomputing and others) — will become more fully utilized in 2008. Over the next year, system makers and users will start to figure out how to take advantage of the additional cores, accelerators, faster interconnects and new software technologies to build more productive systems.

These existing technologies will be used not just to create a few petaflop supers, but also a whole lot of sub-$50,000 systems for department and workgroup teams. According to IDC and others, this latter segment represents the biggest opportunity for HPC vendors for 2008 and beyond. In this issue, John West’s feature article takes a closer look at this much talked-about HPC mid-market opportunity and how the vendors are approaching it.

If the high volumes are truly at the low end, that would suggest that we’re heading for the era of the “personal supercomputer” — a much maligned term denoting a sub-$10,000 HPC workstation. As long as the utility computing model doesn’t swallow up supercomputing in the next few years, HPC workstations could indeed become the next sweet spot in HPC. Probably not for 2008 though. Even though a lot of the pieces already exist — powerful multicore CPUs and GPUs, standard software libraries, high performance interconnects and a choice of open source or commercial clustering middleware — no one has been able to glue it all together yet into a compelling product. (SiCortex may have the right idea with their Catapult, which is essentially a “mini-me” version of their larger production machines.) Since we’re still two or three years away from manycore processors, integrating one or more accelerators into a workstation is going to be necessary if you’re after teraflop-level performance.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Even though 2008 may be a year for consolidation, a raft of exciting products are in the pipeline. Scheduled to debut this year are eight-core x86 chips (in Intel’s Nehalem family), Windows HPC Server 2008, 64-bit GPUs for computing, QDR InfiniBand and optical cables for cluster interconnects, just to name a few. A host of HPC-friendly 10GbE products are also waiting to do battle with InfiniBand. Even assuming all these products arrive on schedule, their real impact probably won’t be realized until 2009, after the early adopters have kicked the tires for a few months.

On the high performance processor front, the big story will continue to be the battle between Intel and AMD. With Intel completely dominating its smaller rival in 2007, the company is looking to land a death blow with its new Nehalem processor family in the second half of 2008. Nehalem is the “tock” microarchitecture redesign of the 45nm Penryn “tick.” As a scalable architecture containing 2 to 8 processor cores, one or more of which could be a GPU, Nehalem might get a jump on AMD’s CPU-GPU “Fusion” processors (now called Accelerated Processing Units). Since AMD has pushed its first CPU-GPU offerings into the second half of 2009, Intel could conceivably have a Nehalem CPU-GPU alternative shipping by then.

First though, Intel will probably need to figure out how to get four cores (at least) on the same piece of silicon. Their current strategy of packaging two dual-core chips for their quad-core products will likely not extend to an eight-core Nehalem socket. When you include the additional complexity of an integrated memory controller and Intel’s new QuickPath interconnect, the Nehalem architecture represents the biggest change to the company’s processor design since they launched the 8086. But if Intel executes its Nehalem roll-out flawlessly (a big if), it will make it almost impossible for AMD to regain the x86 high ground for the foreseeable future.

Intel’s high-end GPU play is “Larrabee,” a general-purpose graphical computing processor architecture, scheduled to be demo’ed later this year (but probably not delivered until 2009). Meanwhile, NVIDIA, undeterred by having to worry about those pesky CPUs, is scheduled to introduce its next-generation Tesla products for GPU computing early in the new year. Those devices will presumably support 64-bit floating point math, bringing them closer to a general-purpose commodity vector processor for HPC. AMD has its own 64-bit graphics computing offering in the FireStream stream processor, also scheduled for delivery in Q1 2008.

With all the GPU talk in 2007, FPGAs have faded somewhat from the limelight. But they still represent perhaps the biggest unrealized potential of any HPC processor technology. As such, FPGAs seem forever poised to achieve greatness. Over the last year, it’s become much easier to connect these chips into standard servers, thanks to AMD and Intel providing the necessary hooks into the host processor. Software development remains the biggest challenge to more widespread adoption. If one of the two leading FPGA vendors, Xilinx or Altera, were to get directly involved in developing HPC-specific FPGA products themselves, like NVIDIA did for GPUs, I might be more bullish on these devices going mainstream. Until then, I see FPGAs mainly exploiting niches where the advantages of performance plus reconfigurability outweigh the extra programming pain.

Network interconnects will be another area to watch in 2008 as users look for a unifying fabric to connect cluster and storage nodes. In 2007, the popularity of InfiniBand continued to expand, riding the growth of high performance clusters. In 2008, iWARP NICs and faster switches may finally give 10GbE the boost it needs to challenge InfiniBand. But I’m still skeptical. The Ethernet crowd thinks its time has come, but I think they’ve underestimated the maturity and momentum built up by InfiniBand over the last few years. On the other hand, it’s tough betting against Ethernet in the long term. 2008 may provide some hints of how this will play out. (I delved a bit deeper into this topic in the final issue of 2007; see InfiniBand and 10GbE Head for Showdown).

If that’s not enough prognosticating for you, check out our two feature articles from the HPC brain trusts at IDC and Tabor Research, which offer some of their HPC predictions for the upcoming year. Both analyst teams run the numbers, estimating the size of the total HPC market for 2008. IDC continues to see the largest demand for medium to small HPC systems for departments and workgroups, while Tabor Research thinks a new category of HPC “threshold applications” will provide major growth. Both groups end up with a similar dollar figure for the total HPC market — in the neighborhood of $20 billion.

OK, $20 billion sounds like a lot. But what if a recession hits in the U.S.? The general consensus from economists seems to be that there’s about a 50/50 chance for one in 2008. If a credit crunch drives the recession, as many suspect it will, IT investments will nosedive. The impact on these high-growth HPC application areas could be substantial. The fallout might eliminate some struggling vendors as well as make others more susceptible to acquisition and mergers. That’s not necessarily the Doomsday scenario it suggests. A leaner HPC vendor community might serve to focus talent and resources at companies where they could do the most good.

Recession or not, HPC seems destined to continue its penetration into technology-hungry business segments over the next year. At the same time, high-end supercomputers will almost certainly establish new performance records and push the application envelope. All in all, 2008 should provide plenty of interest and intrigue for high performance computing users and spectators alike.

—–

As always, comments about HPCwire are welcomed and encouraged. Write to me, Michael Feldman, at editor@hpcwire.com.

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industy updates delivered to you every week!

Researchers Scale COSMO Climate Code to 4888 GPUs on Piz Daint

October 17, 2017

Effective global climate simulation, sorely needed to anticipate and cope with global warming, has long been computationally challenging. Two of the major obstacles are the needed resolution and prolonged time to compute Read more…

By John Russell

Student Cluster Competition Coverage New Home

October 16, 2017

Hello computer sports fans! This is the first of many (many!) articles covering the world-wide phenomenon of Student Cluster Competitions. Finally, the Student Cluster Competition coverage has come to its natural home: H Read more…

By Dan Olds

UCSD Web-based Tool Tracking CA Wildfires Generates 1.5M Views

October 16, 2017

Tracking the wildfires raging in northern CA is an unpleasant but necessary part of guiding efforts to fight the fires and safely evacuate affected residents. One such tool – Firemap – is a web-based tool developed b Read more…

By John Russell

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

Transforming Genomic Analytics with HPC-Accelerated Insights

Advancements in the field of genomics are revolutionizing our understanding of human biology, rapidly accelerating the discovery and treatment of genetic diseases, and dramatically improving human health. Read more…

Exascale Imperative: New Movie from HPE Makes a Compelling Case

October 13, 2017

Why is pursuing exascale computing so important? In a new video – Hewlett Packard Enterprise: Eighteen Zeros – four HPE executives, a prominent national lab HPC researcher, and HPCwire managing editor Tiffany Trader Read more…

By John Russell

Student Cluster Competition Coverage New Home

October 16, 2017

Hello computer sports fans! This is the first of many (many!) articles covering the world-wide phenomenon of Student Cluster Competitions. Finally, the Student Read more…

By Dan Olds

Intel Delivers 17-Qubit Quantum Chip to European Research Partner

October 10, 2017

On Tuesday, Intel delivered a 17-qubit superconducting test chip to research partner QuTech, the quantum research institute of Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) in the Netherlands. The announcement marks a major milestone in the 10-year, $50-million collaborative relationship with TU Delft and TNO, the Dutch Organization for Applied Research, to accelerate advancements in quantum computing. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Fujitsu Tapped to Build 37-Petaflops ABCI System for AIST

October 10, 2017

Fujitsu announced today it will build the long-planned AI Bridging Cloud Infrastructure (ABCI) which is set to become the fastest supercomputer system in Japan Read more…

By John Russell

HPC Chips – A Veritable Smorgasbord?

October 10, 2017

For the first time since AMD's ill-fated launch of Bulldozer the answer to the question, 'Which CPU will be in my next HPC system?' doesn't have to be 'Whichever variety of Intel Xeon E5 they are selling when we procure'. Read more…

By Dairsie Latimer

Delays, Smoke, Records & Markets – A Candid Conversation with Cray CEO Peter Ungaro

October 5, 2017

Earlier this month, Tom Tabor, publisher of HPCwire and I had a very personal conversation with Cray CEO Peter Ungaro. Cray has been on something of a Cinderell Read more…

By Tiffany Trader & Tom Tabor

Intel Debuts Programmable Acceleration Card

October 5, 2017

With a view toward supporting complex, data-intensive applications, such as AI inference, video streaming analytics, database acceleration and genomics, Intel i Read more…

By Doug Black

OLCF’s 200 Petaflops Summit Machine Still Slated for 2018 Start-up

October 3, 2017

The Department of Energy’s planned 200 petaflops Summit computer, which is currently being installed at Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility, is on track t Read more…

By John Russell

US Exascale Program – Some Additional Clarity

September 28, 2017

The last time we left the Department of Energy’s exascale computing program in July, things were looking very positive. Both the U.S. House and Senate had pas Read more…

By Alex R. Larzelere

How ‘Knights Mill’ Gets Its Deep Learning Flops

June 22, 2017

Intel, the subject of much speculation regarding the delayed, rewritten or potentially canceled “Aurora” contract (the Argonne Lab part of the CORAL “ Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Reinders: “AVX-512 May Be a Hidden Gem” in Intel Xeon Scalable Processors

June 29, 2017

Imagine if we could use vector processing on something other than just floating point problems.  Today, GPUs and CPUs work tirelessly to accelerate algorithms Read more…

By James Reinders

NERSC Scales Scientific Deep Learning to 15 Petaflops

August 28, 2017

A collaborative effort between Intel, NERSC and Stanford has delivered the first 15-petaflops deep learning software running on HPC platforms and is, according Read more…

By Rob Farber

Oracle Layoffs Reportedly Hit SPARC and Solaris Hard

September 7, 2017

Oracle’s latest layoffs have many wondering if this is the end of the line for the SPARC processor and Solaris OS development. As reported by multiple sources Read more…

By John Russell

US Coalesces Plans for First Exascale Supercomputer: Aurora in 2021

September 27, 2017

At the Advanced Scientific Computing Advisory Committee (ASCAC) meeting, in Arlington, Va., yesterday (Sept. 26), it was revealed that the "Aurora" supercompute Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Google Releases Deeplearn.js to Further Democratize Machine Learning

August 17, 2017

Spreading the use of machine learning tools is one of the goals of Google’s PAIR (People + AI Research) initiative, which was introduced in early July. Last w Read more…

By John Russell

GlobalFoundries Puts Wind in AMD’s Sails with 12nm FinFET

September 24, 2017

From its annual tech conference last week (Sept. 20), where GlobalFoundries welcomed more than 600 semiconductor professionals (reaching the Santa Clara venue Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Graphcore Readies Launch of 16nm Colossus-IPU Chip

July 20, 2017

A second $30 million funding round for U.K. AI chip developer Graphcore sets up the company to go to market with its “intelligent processing unit” (IPU) in Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Leading Solution Providers

Amazon Debuts New AMD-based GPU Instances for Graphics Acceleration

September 12, 2017

Last week Amazon Web Services (AWS) streaming service, AppStream 2.0, introduced a new GPU instance called Graphics Design intended to accelerate graphics. The Read more…

By John Russell

Nvidia Responds to Google TPU Benchmarking

April 10, 2017

Nvidia highlights strengths of its newest GPU silicon in response to Google's report on the performance and energy advantages of its custom tensor processor. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

EU Funds 20 Million Euro ARM+FPGA Exascale Project

September 7, 2017

At the Barcelona Supercomputer Centre on Wednesday (Sept. 6), 16 partners gathered to launch the EuroEXA project, which invests €20 million over three-and-a-half years into exascale-focused research and development. Led by the Horizon 2020 program, EuroEXA picks up the banner of a triad of partner projects — ExaNeSt, EcoScale and ExaNoDe — building on their work... Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Delays, Smoke, Records & Markets – A Candid Conversation with Cray CEO Peter Ungaro

October 5, 2017

Earlier this month, Tom Tabor, publisher of HPCwire and I had a very personal conversation with Cray CEO Peter Ungaro. Cray has been on something of a Cinderell Read more…

By Tiffany Trader & Tom Tabor

Cray Moves to Acquire the Seagate ClusterStor Line

July 28, 2017

This week Cray announced that it is picking up Seagate's ClusterStor HPC storage array business for an undisclosed sum. "In short we're effectively transitioning the bulk of the ClusterStor product line to Cray," said CEO Peter Ungaro. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Intel Launches Software Tools to Ease FPGA Programming

September 5, 2017

Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs) have a reputation for being difficult to program, requiring expertise in specialty languages, like Verilog or VHDL. Easin Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

IBM Advances Web-based Quantum Programming

September 5, 2017

IBM Research is pairing its Jupyter-based Data Science Experience notebook environment with its cloud-based quantum computer, IBM Q, in hopes of encouraging a new class of entrepreneurial user to solve intractable problems that even exceed the capabilities of the best AI systems. Read more…

By Alex Woodie

Intel, NERSC and University Partners Launch New Big Data Center

August 17, 2017

A collaboration between the Department of Energy’s National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC), Intel and five Intel Parallel Computing Cente Read more…

By Linda Barney

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Share This